Coping Job Loss

It happens in Ohio.  It happens to your neighbor.  It happens to some other guy.

Now, it’s happening to you, here, smack in the middle of your Yampa Valley life.

Losing a job is huge, but it’s not the end of the world.  Just how catastrophic it is depends your personal situation, but it also depends a lot on you!  Maybe you’re the primary wage-earner for the family, or perhaps you bring in supplemental income.  You may be a professional or a tradesman.  You might be single or married, wealthy or poor.  Since situations differ and the circumstances of your life are unique, not everything offered here will apply to you.  We’ll stick to the information that should fit most situations when possible, with emphasis on emotional coping.

1. It’s OK to feel, and important to do so.  This is a loss in your life, the ‘death’ of something very central and dear to you.  Feelings are not your enemy: grieving (experiencing the feelings) is an important first step toward working through things.  Just as your broken arm needs a cast to heal or your influenza needs rest and fluids to get back to health, so a serious loss needs a process of grieving to revive your emotional strength and psychological health.  Grief doesn’t follow a formula, but shows differently in different people -- irritability and anger, fear and anxiety, sadness and tears, among other emotions.  During such vulnerability to raw emotion however, you need to be careful. 

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Losing your employment is very stressful, and irritability is understandable.  Something bad has happened to you, and you feel like a victim.  It feels wrong, unfair, and even humiliating.  Saying so out loud is much, much better than stuffing the feeling -- and being a powder keg.  Same for fear and anxiety: “I’m scared we won’t be able to pay our bills, and maybe we’ll have to move away” is fully understandable and truthful.  It is not predictive, however.   Expressing your fear allows others to connect to you and share your humanity, and to talk about the situation in terms of options.  Catharsis (talking about feelings) is one of the most psychologically helpful things we can do.

As for crying and sadness, indulge yourself.  Being cheerless or despondent is not a terminal condition.  Showing your feelings is not weak, it’s natural (men and women alike).  If you need privacy, fine, but when the tears come don’t stifle them if the situation allows.  This is not a clinical meltdown.  Tears and other expressions of sadness about losing your job can help prevent depression, while stuffing feelings is often the source of depression.

2. Accept the reality of what has happened, and don’t dwell on what used to be or how it might have been different.  It is what it is: you have no job, reduced or no income, and will now have to find new employment.  This calls for a plan of action.  While grieving the situation should not be circumvented (see above), you also cannot afford to marinate in your angst when other people are moving ahead for the few jobs available.

First of all, what’s available locally?  If you’re not already in touch with your local Colorado WorkForce Center, get moving.  Steamboat’s center is 879-3075 (in the Sundance Plaza) and Craig’s center is 824-3246 (480 Barclay).  This is where you’ll find many employment opportunities which change everyday.  You can even register yourself on their state website (www.connectingcolorado.com) so they’ll alert you the minute a new job is opened that fits your capabilities and preferences.  There are also 2 area temporary employment brokers (private, not government-based): Flint Personnel (824-8822) and Mountain Temp Services (879-1634).

On your own, don’t just go through the motions of a job search.  Scanning the classifieds is fine, but today’s world has moved into other ways of posting positions such as monster.com, career builder.com, skilledworkers.com, and many other internet sources you may not have used before.  Each of these allows you to select a state or region (and type of work) to keep you grounded to realistic options.  Use this craigslist.com link to find work in Colorado (if you don’t want the Denver locale of CraigsList, go back and select another of the Colorado regions or an entirely different state).  If you’re not adept at using these internet resources, get someone who can help (your spouse, your teenaged daughter, or a good friend). 

3. Networking is key.  Get the word out that you’re looking for a good job, or that you’ll take something temporarily.  People who like you will want to help, and know some other people you don’t.  If you’re ashamed or embarrassed about being unemployed, this is going to be tough but networking is too valuable a resource to ignore.  And don’t wait for an employment ad to appear: if you’re a carpenter, go to job sites or construction offices and present yourself, or if you’re a salesperson in retail begin knocking on doors of business to let them know you’re a positive and valuable potential employee.

If your new job will require a resume, get yours updated now.  There are lots of places to get advice on how to create the best resume for your field (try groovejob or razume).  Also, you’ll have at least one interview for any job open to you, whether to become a clerk at the local Seven-11 or to gain a sales position with Smart Wool.  This is too big a topic to address here, but consider these words of wisdom: a) don’t carry a negative attitude because it is always detectible (e.g. “I’m applying for a s**t job with some punk kid half my age”); b) think of what the job requires and what you think you’d want to see/hear if you were the interviewer (you may have to research the organization or position first); c) remember that most communication is nonverbal, so your dress, carriage, eye-contact, facial expression, handshake, and confidence all count for more than anything you say; and d) practice good answers to such general questions as “why are you right for this job?” and “what are your main strengths and weaknesses”.

4. Adjust your spending to match your present income.  You don’t need to buy the supersoft toilet paper, or go out to eat twice a week, or buy that Starbuck’s double-mocha latte, or maintain that DishNetwork Premium subscription or NetFlix supersized membership.  If you continue to live at the same level you could afford when employed, you’re simply in denial.  Frugality is the new hipness, while extravagance is so-o-o 90’s.  Check out some excellent websites that help you adjust to this temporary belt-tightening, like LifeHack or DebtSteps.  If you haven’t needed a budget when fully employed, now is a great time to get one to fit your reduced income.

Make bargain-hunting fun again, like when you were younger or first married.  Going to yard sales can save a bundle, as long as you’re fixed on what you’re looking for (don’t just go to see what’s there, or you’ll spend on things you don’t need).  Same with that trip to CostCo near Eagle: go with your list, and buy just those items.  And if you’re not acquainted with the many recycling stores we have in our area, find them.  Steamboat Springs has LiftUp (871-9327), Rummagers (870-6087), and Deja Vu Boutique (879-9056).   Craig has Brand Spankin’ New (736-6100), the Thrift Shop (824-6139), and the Community Budget Center (824-7898).  And in Oak Creek you can shop the Community Thrift and Budget Center (736-8155).  Remember, you’re smart to be thrifty at this time!

5. Take care of yourself.  This means your physical, mental, social, and spiritual health.  Physically, you need to stay active and enjoy whatever recreation or activity your body is used to or needs to compensate for so much at-home time.  Also, if you were ‘just too busy’ to work out or focus on a diet, this is a great time to do so (hey, you’ve got the time now, what’s stopping you?).  Mentally, follow the suggestions above and most of all keep a positive attitude.  That’s not to say fake a positive attitude, but recognize that moping about and being a drag for others will help nothing.  And when you apply for that next job pportunity, bring your best, most positive and optimistic bearing with you.

Socially, be with people rather than hide from them.  Even if you feel diminished by being unemployed, be with your friends and enjoy them.  Watch out for alcohol parties however, since you may find yourself tempted to drink too much and consequently make a fool of yourself.  Inviting very close friends over for a drink or dinner is a good idea, since you don’t have to pretend all’s well, and can talk more candidly about your feelings and new directions.  And spiritually, keep things in perspective with whomever you consider your higher power.  At a time of distress or fear, a faith in a grander plan is reassuring and comforting.  You can draw strength from your awareness of the grand scheme of things, the vastness of the universe, the insignificance of our little travails. 

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